I have been observing from land the swell in cruising. I have heard
waves of accolades from friends getting on board this floating vacation
trend. With names like Fantasy, Fascination and Magic, and ships
getting larger and laden with more and more amenities, cruising is
luring travelers of all ages, shapes and sizes.
With two teenagers, we decided the obvious choice for our first family cruise was a “Fun Ship.” Our 15 and 13-year olds were on board with the cruise concept; in fact they’d been begging us for years.
How convenient that we found a mid-summer cruise out of NYC aboard Carnival’s Miracle, eliminating the need for airfare to a Florida port. We drove to Manhattan in the morning, and boarded the immense ship for a glorious afternoon sail out of New York City Harbor.
The Statue of Liberty bid us adieu as we embarked on an eight day voyage to Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands. Sailing from New York means you have three “fun days at sea” before you reach the Caribbean, plenty of time to relax, explore the playful and whimsical décor of the 11-story ship, and meet a few of your 2,500 fellow passengers.
Jumping into the fun, our son went to “ClubO2” (for kids 15-17) his first night and made fast friends, we saw very little of him after that – an occasional glimpse on the waterslide, or at a show – always with a clump of kids.
Our daughter “hung out” with us by the pool the first day but then received a personal invitation placed in our cabin to Camp Carnival (clever on the camp counselor’s part). On day 2 she got on board and got involved with scavenger hunts, trivia games, and evening disco parties with fun ship friends (ages 12-14) for the remainder of the cruise.
The ship’s Hotel Director said “This is where Carnival success lies; we have the best kids programs. We build these venues to provide a place for the kids to meet each other, they have a place to gather and make friends. We know where they are, they’re safe, they’re having fun, the parents know where they are, and everyone is happy. The parents can then relax by the pool, have a mani pedi at the Ship Spa, have dinner and dance in our Supper Club, take in a show.”
So our first two full days at sea, my husband and I read books by the pool, worked out in the fabulous fitness facility in the ship’s bow, and just relaxed. When I got twitchy – I would browse the Fun Times schedule and attend a hip hop class or a spa seminar on healthy eating and detoxifying (which I found extremely educational but ironic with 24-hour free room service, a floating buffet and five-course dining).
Following our kids’ sociability, we met other couples, including happy honeymooners from California, and folks celebrating their 50th anniversary (they won the Newlywed Game).
Being new cruisers, we learned the ropes from fellow cruisers who had sailed on Cunard’s QE2 and the Norwegian Dawn and chose Carnival for its broad activities. Two decades ago cruising was very exclusive and expensive with one pool, a dining room, maybe a nightclub. Now it’s a floating Caribbean resort. Carnival in the 80’s and 90’s with Kathie Lee campaigns brought cruising to the masses. And there is no contact with the continental US, unless you want it.”
Our ports of call included San Juan, St Thomas and Tortola. My husband and I love discovering new islands, we took the kids on island excursions to snorkel amid Caribbean coral and tropical fish in the beautiful Virgin Islands, explored beaches, forts and fantastic resorts around the turquoise waterways. Our three port of call days were action-packed and adventuresome, with a return to our floating hotel exhausted each evening. I will confess I love the aspect of not having to pack and unpack for each new destination.
Our Captain said, “You don’t have to think about your hotel, your transportation, your activities or entertainment when you’re on our cruise. It’s all here. There is no comparison to resorts on shore, including the cost. Resorts are static, cruising continues to grow and we offer so much now with spa services, shows, kids programs and water parks.” The Captain said the expensive, elite lifestyle of cruising has been made more accessible by Carnival.
Evenings aboard the ship you can flow from the formal dining room to a jazz club, to Broadway caliber shows with singing and dancing, to karaoke, a piano bar, or dancing in Frankenstein’s Disco. Port nights, a band plays poolside on the top deck, affording great tunes and a bird’s eye view of the islands you explored that day.
On the seven night schedule, there are two formal nights, which my daughter and I loved (so girly) and my husband and son indulged. We had elegant dinners with our kids and took handsome family photos we wouldn’t otherwise dress up for. The Ship also has a surcharge ($30) Steak House located in the glass enclosed ship stack. The 10th floor setting is gorgeous (especially at sunset), the food and service is extraordinary – making for a lovely alternative to your formal seating or the buffet.
I will now confess that I wasn’t “shore” I would enjoy cruising. I feared being herded with hoards of buffet-binging, chaise-hogging shipmates, dropped daily at some steamy spot like teeming tourists. The reality is I laughed, I learned, I exercised daily and danced nightly (and yes, dined grandly). Our kids joined conga lines, while we chilled in our chaises and chatted with newfound friends. We swam with turtles and sting rays, and I was wrapped in seaweed (at the ship spa). We rocked to the musical shows, giggled at the games, and watched the jiggles at the belly flop contest. We sailed into Caribbean sunsets, and woke to stunning sea ports.
Even our return into New York Harbor at the conclusion of our cruise was spectacular. Seeing Manhattan from the 12th deck of a cruise ship is magnificent. Of course this meant our cruise was over, so the Manhattan docking was melancholy.
Carnival is no longer just a floating booze cruise, it is totally family friendly. And while it may not be the classiest in cruising – like sister lines of Cunard and Holland America, or rival Royal Caribbean, with kids onboard – this is definitely the fun ship.
See Cruise Tips for Families and Cruise Ship Spa and Salon Reviews
Curiosities about Carnival:
Carnival is celebrating over 40 years of Fun, starting in 1972
Carnival has 25 ships, including 4 new mega-ships Inspiration, Sunshine, Splendor, Dream and Magic with 54 homeports, since 9-11, to eliminate flying for cruisers.
Approximately 17% of North Americans cruise, indicating huge growth potential for the industry.
Carnival is the flagship of the largest cruise ship alliance in the world, which includes Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Costa Cruises, Windstar and Seabourn. Royal Caribbean's Quantum - Anthem of the Seas is the new competitor.
The cruise ship environmental reputation is a huge misconception. Cruise ships don’t dump at sea, they treat or recycle their waste and adhere to the most stringent environmental policies.
All Photography by Greg Burke